Recently my inbox has been filled with friends panicking about their personal statements. While I enjoy proofreading, I thought maybe publishing my own writing process might be of some use to somebody. The application was for a masters course in Brunel University but the steps can be applied for other degrees. I got an offer three weeks after my application so I must have been doing something right.
Step 1 Jot down all the things you've done these past few years that are important to you along with what you learned from them. Don't worry about whether or not it fits the course at this point. This should be a mix of accomplishments you're proud of and would eagerly show off given the chance. I wrote mine in a spider diagram to see how all of the activities linked together.
Step 2 Write down the course requirements and aims found on the university website and highlight any key words. Try to analyse exactly what it is they are looking for. On mine for example I identified four main categories: research skills, analytical skills, innovation and future plans.
Step 3 Go back to your diagram from step 1 and identify how your recent activity satisfies their course requirements. On mine I gave a colour to each of the categories (research, analytical, innovation, future) and put a dot of that colour to the things I've done that prove these skills. This is also a good way to see if the course is actually right for you. If it is, the requirements will fit your past experience like a glove.
Step 4 Organise your web diagram into bullet points using the words highlighted from step 2. This is the bare bones of your personal statement, just the core concepts you want to message across. Colour code these as well as it will help you identify which bullet points are important and which are superfluous.
Step 5 Research the staff that are going to be teaching you. What do they have to say on the course? What is their area of expertise? Write down any books or papers they have written and read them! If this is the right course you will surely find quite a few that are interesting to you.
Step 6 Start writing your statement. Don't think about how it sounds just yet, just link together the bullet points from step 4 into something coherent. Once you're done with that go back and start editing. Put yourself in the shoes of the university. If you've done step 5, this shouldn't be too hard. Keep referring back to the course requirements if you get stuck.
Step 7 Show your statement to people. The more the better though it helps a lot if you have someone who is experienced either in proofreading or the industry. For example for my application into a games course, I asked my contacts in the games industry to read it. Keep an open mind and remember to weigh other peoples edits against your own core concepts.
Step 8 Put the statement away. Go do a roadtrip, play videogames non-stop for an entire weekend, hang out at the pub, whatever you do to distract yourself from the daunting thought that is your uncertain future. Once you've had enough beers, beaten enough bosses or gotten tired of travelling, open up your statement again and read it. Do whatever changes you feel you have to do until you are happy with how it sounds and show it again to your contacts.
Step 9 Read your statement again. Does it go above and beyond answering your universities questions? Does it make you sound like you can take on their course? Does it make you feel proud and accomplished? Do your proofreaders agree? Then congratulations, you are ready to send off your personal statement.
Hope I was of some help and good luck!